In modern Japan, most of people enjoy Western style music and Wagakki is not common. Only limited people involved in Japanese traditional arts such as Joruri (浄瑠璃), Kabuki (歌舞伎) and cultural events such as festivals and Shinto ceremonies and Geisha performance play Wagakki. Wagakki is used for playing Gagaku (雅楽) and you will find the sound of Wagakki is very delicate and unique. “Gagaku” is the old Japanese court music performed by Shinto priests since the old times and it is the music dedicated to gods.
Kinds of Waggaki
There are many kinds of Wagakki and they are classified as roughly three categories; stringed instruments, tubular wind instruments and percussion instruments. Most of them are introduced from old China and Korea and they have gone through unique developments in Japan. However, some of them are the original musical instruments of Japan. Here are the lists of Wagakki. First three instruments are the representatives of Japanese original Wagakki and last four instruments are especially popular because they are frequently used at traditional festivals and Shinto-ceremonies in Japan.
One of Japanese original musical instruments, Wagon (和琴), which is also called Yamato-goto (大和琴), has wooden body about 190 cm in length and six-strings with movable bridges. Yamato-goto player seats behind and strum with plectrum.
Kagurabue (神楽笛) is the other original musical instrument of Japan which is the 46cm-length flute with six or seven holes made of bamboo. “Kagura” has a meaning to entertain god and it is played when they pray. For Wagakki, there are three Japanese flutes that are Ryiteki (龍笛), Komabue (高麗笛) and Kagurabue. Shakubyoshi (笏拍子) is also a Japanese original musical instrument. It is the percussion instrument made of wood and used to keep rhythm of the music.
Shamisen (三味線) is a guitar-like musical instrument that is played by twanging three strings with plectrum. It is generally used as an accompaniment for folk songs and folk dances in Japan. Yoshida brothers are the most famous shamisen players who challenged new songs to promote and perpetuate shamisen music.
Shakuhachi (尺八) is a Japanese bamboo flute with five-holes that is played at a vertical angle to the mouth as recorder. It is also used to accompany performances of folk songs as well as shamisen. Shakuhachi is especially difficult to play among Wagakki as it is said it takes at least 3 years to be able to make sound.
Tsudumi (鼓) is a kind of drum which is 25-26cm-length and shaped like sandglass. Player holds on their shoulder and beat by their hand.
Taiko (太鼓) is the drum playing with drumsticks called bachi. Playing drum by hand is tsudumi and by drumsticks is taiko. There are three types of taiko with different sizes including small-sized shime-daiko (締太鼓), middle-sized oke-daiko (桶太鼓) and large-sized miya-daiko (宮太鼓). The biggest miya-daiko is the most popular Japanese drum which is commonly used for festival of shrine. The beer-barrel like miya-daiko is extremely powerful and creates festive atmosphere.
These days, Wagakki players are trying to spread the attractiveness of Wagakki by collaborating with other instruments and challenging modern music. Due to their activities, Wagakki became friendly and has been reevaluated these days. One example is the rock band named WagakkiBand who sing theme songs of Japanimation with Japanese traditional musical instruments as well as regular musical instruments used for rock music. They are considered as a cool artist and became popular among young people in Japan and overseas. WagakkiBand is consisted by 8 members who play Japanese traditional musical instruments including shakuhachi, shamisen, taiko and western musical instruments including guitar, bass guitar and drum. In addition, the vocalist is the master of “shigin (詩吟)”, Japanese poem chanting. As they say in the profile of their official website, their attractiveness is “the miraculous fusion of rock band and traditional performing arts” and “authentic expression of music originated in Japan”. Their performance stimulate young people’s interests and enhance the degree of recognition of Wagakki.